Success Story: Jens Pulver | Driven

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Last week a Kickstarter project for Jens Pulver | Driven, a documentary about a legendary mixed martial arts fighter, faced possible failure. Seeking $25,000 in a tight three-week time frame, the project was short nearly $12,000 with four days to go. It seemed a potentially insurmountable amount.

And then the internet happened. Over the weekend pledges erupted, and yesterday the project finished $2,000 over-funded. Here’s a chart showing number of backers per-day:

An amazing 80% of Driven’s pledges came in at $25 or less. This was a project funded not by big money donors but an enormous, organic groundswell. Here’s something Gregory Bayne shared in a recent project update:

The $13,500 raised thus far, as you all know, is not from anyone wealthy, it’s from regular people like yourselves, all across the country that are making a choice with their hard earned dollars to say “this is what I want to see!” And, your contribution to the film doesn’t end once the dollars have been pledged, you are now part of the process of making this film. We’re in this together, rooting for Jens, and sharing in the creation that is his remarkable story on film.

Everything about Greg’s approach to the project really blew us away. Yesterday as the project was nearing its deadline, we sent Greg a couple of questions asking how he did it. How did he manage to make up such a huge gap? What worked for him and what did not?

Greg’s answers are a must-read for anyone with any interest in running a Kickstarter campaign. He worked his ass off for his funding, and as he said in our exchange:

Putting myself, and the film out there like this so early on really made me quickly hone my message, and really focus the story I was looking to tell. I’m quite grateful for that.

Read on for more.

As of last Thursday you needed roughly $10,000 to reach your goal. Somehow you made it, and almost all of it via small ($100 or less) pledges. How did you pull that off?

Daunting right?! Well, from day one I decided to approach this campaign as a full time job. Everyday I would track down where, and how, the film and this campaign were being discussed online. Luckily it was mostly positive, but whether it was positive or negative I just put myself out there and engaged with the quite vast, and diverse MMA (mixed martial arts) community. I was very upfront, and fully transparent in what I was trying to accomplish in the campaign, with the film itself, and with the fact that I am a completely fresh into this world of mixed martial arts. There was a lot of good response to that, which prompted some to write blogs, or news articles (luckily there were some sports journalist in the mix), and opened up opportunities for a couple of interviews, including two MMA radio shows.

Additionally I have my own site where I write essay style blogs about film, culture, and politics. I used this, connected with my personal Facebook and Twitter, as well as a film fan page and Twitter account to push the word out everyday.

The project gained some early steam from a handful of fans, compelled by the trailer, who also joined with me to push the word out, and soon you could search “Jens Pulver Driven” or “Jens Pulver Documentary” on Google and come up with 10+ pages of relevant links to individual blogs, posts, sharing of the trailer, etc., or search on Twitter to see a stream of tweets, and retweets.

Ultimately, I believe this groundswell came from a sincere effort to include the backers in this project, and the constant diligence paid to that effort. I always responded to their comments, their emails, their questions, their concerns, as quickly and honestly as I could. I wanted them to know that this was in many ways a populist movement to be a part of telling this remarkable story. I may be the guy making the film, but I, with Jens, am making it for all of them.

What did you find were the most effective methods to finding backers? Were there particular techniques or communication channels that worked better than others?

I knew that with Jens, and the sport of MMA I had initially both an established audience, and fan base to approach with this endeavor. And, after the initial trailer crossed 10,000 views, I knew that they were responding very positively to what I had put together. YouTube’s insight tool also helped me track where the views, and ultimately conversations, where generating from.

In terms of the best method, I would have to honestly take a poll from my incredible pool of generous backers to pinpoint their particular points of entry to the project. Like I said, I was full time 24/7 with this. I spent all day in MMA discussion forums, responding to blogs, and emails, sending new emails, keeping in constant contact with backers via Kickstarter updates, Facebook updates, Twitter updates, I used YouTube annotations to update the two trailers I had online there to both explain and help guide people to the campaign, did a couple of MMA Radio shows with Jens…it was basically an all on the table approach. I tried to leave no stone unturned in this effort.

How involved has Jens Pulver been with the project? As the subject of your documentary it’s obviously a bit complicated to involve them in the funding. How did you handle that?

Before beginning the campaign, I ran it all by Jens, the concept, the rewards, everything. I wanted him to be on board, and comfortable as in many ways I was representing him to the public via this film and campaign. After putting together the initial trailer, I think we solidified a trust between us, and he was all in on whatever needed to be done. 
He was not out there promoting it 24/7, but did share the link on his Facebook, did accompany me on radio interviews, in which he put forth a very compelling reasons for both the film being made, and why folks should jump in if they could, and also assured people that I was indeed legitimate, which helped tremendously as I am very new to MMA.

Jens is at a place in time where he wants to share his story, not out of vanity, but because he really believes (as do I) that in telling it he may be able to speak to those that need to hear his message most.

I think that this campaign, the very independent nature of it, and the way in which it included his fans in a very tangible way, excited him. And now that it has proved successful, he’s 100% with me in this project, ready to retrace the steps of his life thus far as an open book, not shying away from anything, doing whatever needs to be done to deliver a fantastic film.

How has publicly funding your film impacted your project? Would you do it again?

Despite some detractors along the way, I have to say that this experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Putting myself, and the film out there like this so early on really made me quickly hone my message, and really focus the story I was looking to tell. I’m quite grateful for that. As well, it just opened so many doors. I now have over 400 good people along for the ride with me, and have met some incredible new people that I’m sure will turn into lifelong friends, if not collaborators.

Would I do it again? Yes. The opportunity to engage an audience from day one of a project is something I find incredibly valuable. I don’t take lightly what the backers of this project have done, and believe that it’s actually now that the hard work begins. I need to make good on my promise, keep them engaged, and deliver to them a work we can all be proud of taking part in.

The last 20 days have been remarkable. I am humbled, blown away, and motivated as hell.

How did you first come to the film itself?

I met Jens through a friend, had a one hour conversation with him, and was totally engaged by him. He’s an amazing story teller. After that I did my research, read his book, and realized that there was so much more to this guy, and his sport that meets the eye. I knew immediately I wanted to make a film. I tried to put together some funding to get it going, but it all fell through, so right after the holiday we got together, I shot him in the gym for a couple of days, did a 20 minute interview, and cut together the trailer. A month later, we’re all systems go!

Anything else to share?

I am truly thankful for a place like Kickstarter that has enabled me to connect with so many others in this shared pursuit. And, I appreciate Arin Crumley, who invited me to the site.

    1. Daniel McGuire on

      great lessons here...

    2. Genta Sebastian on

      Well, I'm inspired. Thanks!